Film Studies in Motion: From audiovisual essay to academic research video

Videographic analysis

This category offers what is arguably the closest audiovisual alternative to the traditional written essay or research paper. It breaks up into roughly two kind of practices: videographic formalism, and videographic criticism.
            ​The aesthetic and rhetorical range of videographic formalism is best found in two videos on opposite sides of the spectrum: in David Bordwell’s scholarly composed Constructive Editing in Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket (2012),[52] and in the aesthetically embellished What is Neorealism? (2013) video by Kogonada.
The aesthetically sparse Constructive Editing in Robert Bresson’s ‘Pickpocket’-video is a superior example of formal analysis exerted in video [Figure 20]. This is unsurprising, given Bordwell’s established scholarly position and academic qualities within the field of Film Studies. It is noticeable, however, how Bordwell’s vast teaching experience, through its traditional forms of analytical practice, influences the technological and argumentative properties of the video. Most salient is the fact that in a twelve-minute audiovisual essay only one minute (7:06 – 8:16) plays actual video – the rest of its running time is filled with still images, like traditional presentation slides, and voice-over narration. The analysis opens on a title card, and immediately cuts to stills from David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010) through which Bordwell starts to discuss conventionalized ‘analytical editing’.[53] The screen is here filled with stills from Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead (2004), subsequently joined by a diagrammatic top-down view of camera positions and actor locations. In the meantime, we hear Bordwell consider that the classical 180 degrees rule can be transposed onto more complex blocking. Subsequently, a discussion of Lev Kuleshov brings the viewer to the principle of ‘constructive editing’, where, at 07:06 deep in the essay, finally a clip is played. Following the video sequence, Bordwell picks up his voice-over and starts dissecting the scene, but as opposed to repeating parts of footage (an approach taken to illustrate the dense dissection in our (un)reliable (un)reliability video, between 31:11 – 35:55), mixing and juxtaposing stills with running video (as for example in Kevin B. Lee’s 2015 Rohmer’s Guessing Games video), or to coaxing its running speed (as e.g., in Kogonada’s Neorealism-video), we are presented with stills. Although his argument is illuminating and lucid, Bordwell’s presentational mode does not fully utilize the inherent audiovisual affordances of the chosen mode of communication. A series of stills illustrate his close analysis of a continuous shot, accompanied with explanatory voice-overs like “the camera tilts up” or “Bresson’s dissolve emphasizes once more Michel’s hands” – without allowing his audience to actually (re)view Bresson’s tilts or dissolves. On the whole, most parts of this videographic analysis are reminiscent of an analytical essay read-out alongside a PowerPoint presentation, or to an audiobook version of his and Kristin Thompson’s Film Art. Despite its disputable technological choices in terms of delivering videographic work, however, Bordwell’s analysis is profuse when it comes to employing materials from outside his case study in order to build a broader frame of reference, to build an argument and to contextualize the insights of that lead to his argument and those that spring from it. To illustrate his findings by means of clear and to-the-point graphics, he keeps everything in check. The titles of the quoted films are clearly referenced during the video; therefore the absence of a works cited list at the end of the video is debatable, yet reasonable. If we were to uphold the same standards as with academic journals or books, however, it would be good practice to include references both ‘in-text’ as well as in a bibliography provided at the end of the video.
Although Erlend Lavik’s 2012 Style in the Wire looks to be similar at its onset, the video differs in various aspects from that of Bordwell. Firstly, Lavik’s choice of angle and case study prescribe his mode of analysis, whereas Bordwell’s goes into a selection of cases with a theoretical construct in hand, scoping out prime examples of a specific type of editing to illustrate his framework (Bordwell’s mode of inquiry is in line with his written, neo-formalist, historical-poetic mode of film study). Also, like Bordwell in his video, Lavik sets up his case study by means of contextualizing his specific thesis, however the motivation provided here is stronger, namely that according to Lavik the general style of The Wire did not get the attention it deserved. What follows is a video that spans just over half an hour and looks into several aspects of cinematography, editing and other formal and stylistic traits.
While the video may seem an exercise in objective analysis, Lavik’s enumerations are laced with personal opinion and interpretation. His voice is heard almost continually on voice-over, combined with occasional instances of on-screen texts featuring drop quotes from the series’ creator, or screenshots highlighting sections of articles written about the show. Textual mentions are always interjections, interspersed as separate slides: text is never super-imposed on footage or stills from The Wire itself, but always on images that accompany that specific quote (like a picture of the show’s creator). These textual quotes, however, are untraceable as their exact sources are not revealed (neither during nor at the end of the video, neither in the description box nor in the accompanying write-up) [Figure 21]. Another problem with this unmarked mode of conduct is the fact that Lavik’s work sometimes moves beyond mere analysis and inconspicuously ventures into either subjective hermeneutics or personal opinion. The constant stream of voice-over and lack of visual variance masks these digressions: for example, at around 11 minutes into the video Lavik goes into a discussion about how moving a camera establishes scenes. Instead of referring back to the ‘delayed establishment’ he mentions earlier on, or recognizing this as a typical device of dramatic film and television, Lavik argues that this is a trope from documentary, despite the fact that, as acknowledged by Lavik himself, “the camera movement is too smooth and the lighting too cinematic.” Such subjective commentaries are seamlessly assimilated in the uninterrupted stream of video, still-visuals and voice-over. Additionally, The Wire was a show that was shot and aired in 4:3 Academic format, while Lavik’s video has a 16:9 ratio (his videographic analysis was made well before HBO’s 16:9 remastering in 2014 – a wide concern around such a move [e.g., Kendricken 2014] underlines the stakes of the framing question). Furthermore, screenshots of The Wire as shown in Lavik’s video are sometimes introduced with a Ken Burns effects, moving from ‘pixely’ 16:9 to 4:3, compromising the original composition. The visuals Lavik offers fit the screen in various ways, but often do not fill the entire frame while still blending multiple aspect ratios. These remarks may feel like hairsplitting criticism, but one should not forget that our seemingly harsh review is aimed at a videographic work, which, by focusing exactly on a show’s stylistic properties, actually does not do justice to the series’ intended aesthetic qualities. All in all, while Lavik’s work is one of the finest, or at least most elaborate, examples of videographic criticism, the video is technically muddled, and its content veers somewhere in between criticism and analysis. This ties in with Lavik’s general considerations of the form, the definition of which we discuss more thoroughly in Chapter III.
Whereas Bordwell’s work has a clear scope and a lucidly structured – scholarly – approach, a more open and playful format can be found in Kogonada’s 2013 What is Neorealism? video.
The 04’55” analysis is a side-by-side comparison of two cuts of the ‘same film’. Although David O. Selznick and Vittorio De Sica were once coupled to collaborate on a film, ultimately they both took to their own and made two separate editions for two different markets (Selznick’s Indiscretion of an American Wife and De Sica’s Stazione Termini [Terminal Station], both from 1953 [Figure 22]).
Kogonada, arguably producing some of the most aesthetically elegant works, starts his video off with moody music, telling in a muted voice-over of a ‘dream’ he had, about a neorealist director paired up with a Hollywood producer that shoot a film together, but after creative differences make their own cuts of their own copies of the same footage. Even though he then dispels that this is what actually happened,[54] the video retains its aura of surrealism through low-key speech and an unstable soundtrack. Through a technically sophisticated video working with counting frames, start-stop montage, and superimposed graphics, Kogonada delves into Neorealism by way of comparing shot-lengths as economized by an American producer [Figure 23]. However the method is sound and the presentation is skillfully convincing, Kogonada’s ‘conclusion’ is left up in the air with his final voice-over concluding, “to ask what is Neorealism, is to ask what is cinema.”[55]
In between of Bordwell and Kogonada’s approach is Jim Emerson’s In the Cut videos.[56] In his video series, Emerson provides in-depth formal analysis, while also delivering critique with a subjective flourish. Emerson speaks through re-configured edits of film scenes, resulting in continuously playing footage and a near-constant stream of voice-over. Freeze-frames and altered playback-speeds are used as rhetorical means to clarify annotations made in voice-over.

Non-scholarly but strong examples of videographic criticism – that stands in the tradition of the personal essay – are YouTube reviews. For example, the popular 'CinemaSins' channel (with around five million subscribers, and counting) utilize openly subjective opinion delivered by voice-over, fast compilational and elliptical cutting, superimposition of graphics and textual annotation, and thinly formulated theses and conclusions; no matter how unreasonable they may be at times [see, for example, screenshots of Everything Wrong with Cloverfield in 8 Minutes or Less (2014) - Figure 24].
Though the format – Everything Wrong with [Title] in [x] Minutes – and its execution – loud and abrasive voice-over, high paced editing, nonsensical criteria and verdicts – these videos are little more than spiel; they are, in many ways, nearly related to modern-day hyper-narrated criticism, and by that fall out of the scope of our exploration.

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